The experience at Restaurante Brasileiro, at the Slovanský dům location down-down-down a Na Prikope staircase, is many things, but boring definitely isn´t one of them.
It´s not just the cuisine, but this restaurant´s atmosphere and operation also rings true South American style, in which daily life is unhampered by fanatical bureaucracy and picayune rules, and therefore is as lively and vibrant as it is confusing. What began as a somewhat shaky and confusing evening, ended on a high note (in more ways than one).
It was a Monday evening my reservation was for 6:30 old-folks-time, so when I was told by one of the assistant managers (peppered throughout the cavernous space with attentive eyes and hands clasped behind their backs) that I couldn´t get a bigger table, I was skeptical. There seemed to be plenty of space, both in the first dining room centered by the buffet table, and in the much larger main dining room, where the vastness is broken up by impressive architectural design, with domed ceilings and archways that compliment the contemporary South American design.
The place seemed too empty and overstaffed to deny me a four-top, and I was already slightly irritated by three different staff members asking me about my reservation without so much as a piece of paper to refer to; and then the confusion of standing directionless after I checked my coat and the woman who took my name was no where to be seen. So to not be accommodated with a larger table (the one they wanted to give us was miniature) and told they were all reserved had me thinking, “Yeah, right, on a Monday,” and, dare I admit, politely insisting. Yes, some finagling merited a more spacious table, which I´d later learn we didn´t really need. That was one of a few surprises.
By 7:15 the restaurant was swarming with loosened ties and sassy fashionistas circling the salad buffet and rejoining their parties, which averaged four or more. By 7:30 it was a madhouse. Wonderfully hectic. On a Monday.
It´s not the trip around the all-you-can-eat salad buffet that´s confusing, although judging by the density of the Monday night crowd it´s never a fast trip around the circular display of 14 to 20 assorted offerings. But scanning the menu, and then searching for the items that sound appealing is not the way to go about it. Especially because out of all the items listed, only a select few will be out for the taking, and on a second run, you´ll notice a different combination. Some items appear that aren´t listed on the menu at all. So I circled with my plate, cafeteria-line style, scooping up every little thing, and assuming I´d match each sample with the menu item. This ended up a strenuous matching game that I´m thankful I won´t have to attempt on my next visit.
Basically, as far as the fare is concerned, save yourself confusion and consider the menu just a gist.
Restaurante Brasileiro is one of the restaurant brands owned by the Ambiente group, which also operates Café Savoy, Pastacaffe, and Pizza Nuova. Naturally, I inquired on—after initially doubting—the authenticity of the kitchen. According to a manager, the head chef, Czech, was trained and continues to update his training in Brazil, and half the kitchen staff is indeed Brazilian. Cuisine of this large South American nation is difficult, anyway, to summarize, since it varies greatly by region.
Chickpeas tossed with salmon pieces, feta cheese wrapped in aubergine, cauliflower and ham in yogurt—the combinations are basic, cool ingredients of the garden variety paired together, unclad and refreshing. Notably, though, none of the salad items stood out in quality; the produce, so, too, was middle-of-the-road.
Sushi is included in the salad buffet. The salmon pieces are satisfying, but overall, the sushi is a poor player on the restaurant´s grand stage. The vegetarian version of maki sushi was frightening in all its unidentifiable neon yellow. My dinner companion braved it, and made a face confirming my assumption that it was hardly edible. And the crab, in all its minuteness, was certainly a crab species that people where I come from refer to as: crab with a “k,” krab.
It´s the Churrasco Rodizio experience that remedies the mediocrity of the salad buffet. This is the point of Restaurante Brasileiro. Suddenly, the pace of the evening picks up, and diners are encircled by a delicious hustle and bustle.
Every two minutes or less, a server approaches the table with knives and a skewer, freshly taken from a special grill. Legs of lamb, chicken hearts (“I´ll pass”), roast pork, fish varieties that I still can´t pronounce even though I asked them to repeat it five times, bacon-wrapped chicken, filet mignon, rump steak coated with parmesan—it´s coming at you, and if it´s not coming at you, it will. The servers are busy bees, and they keep the customers busy viewing, selecting, chewing, nodding, and barely finishing a second bite of one type of meat when a different server is approaching with another selection.
Churraso is the method of cooking meat, and Rodizio is the way in which the Churrasco meat is served, when the approaching servers are also the cooks. I observed carefully and saw the same group of servers circling round and round with a different grilled presentation every few minutes, so it is not possible that these servers were also the cooks. I suppose this is a key part of the Brazilian authenticity of Restaurante Brasileiro, but it´s a detail that shrinks to insignificance in hindsight.
You might feel bombarded by the constant looming. You might end up paying more attention to the servers than to your dinner companions. Or you might, as my companion and I did, quite enjoyably immerse yourself in this popular, interactive Brazilian dining experience. Also, it doesn´t hurt that in addition to being all-proper and gracious, the server staff is a wealth of eye-candy, and with one gorgeous server after another interrupting our every ten words, we could hardly complain.
As for the quality of the grill deliverables: unequivocally mouth-watering. And as though in perfectly timed interludes, we were presented with platters of Parmesan and garlic stuffed tomatoes, and lightly oiled and grilled assorted peppers, diversifying the protein-packed mouthfuls. A bowl of sweet fried bananas was placed on our table. The salad buffet seems, in retrospect, a light overture to a powerful gastronomical symphony.
Alright, so it´s an all-you-can-eat affair, but it´s not cheap. After 6pm, the Churrasco Rodizio and salad buffet option is 625CZK, and 495CZK before 6pm. The salad buffet alone is decently priced at 285CZK after 6pm, 255 CZK beforehand. If you´re a vegetarian, it´s a good deal. And, unsurprisingly, it´s the drinks that can really vacuum the wallet clean. We decided to add some zing to our evening with caipirinha cocktails, the national drink of Brazil. There were two times my eyes jumped out of my head and bounced back again: the first sip of my ultra strong cocktail, and when I saw the check.
But it was worth it. It´s cluttered, chaotic, noisy, and fun. A party of 16 or so was seated in the center of the dining room, and as the evening progressed so did their cheer. As the servers brought them wine from the very extensive (and pricey) wine list, they exhibited a special serving presentation, using a hefty carafe and pouring in some impressive choreographed way that my companion asked I turn my head and observe. “It would be so fun to have a birthday here!” we exclaimed, almost in sync, as we turned our attention back to our plates and a server with yet another steaming delight.
We concluded our hefty dinner with an order of fondue, and I thought it was the grand finale until one of the staff members recommended a special Brazilian rum.
That´s where my notes end: “Rum ”
Na Příkopě 22, Prague 1 (Slovanský dům shopping center)
+420 221 451 200
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Disclaimer: All stars are relative to an establishment´s context.
Jessica Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org